Storm Chasing Debut

Tornado watch in parts of the state, flash flood advisories, hail and torrential rain… all in the forecast. I had the day off on Thursday and I could already see the storm clouds billowing into the sky to the west. Looked like it was going to be a great day to get some storm pictures so I consulted the weather charts to find the most likely viewing opportunities. I was hoping the storms would come right up from the Arkansas River Valley where I would get a good view from all my favorite overlooks… but no such luck. Pikes Peak is so massive that it often creates it’s own weather, and even more often it shapes the weather as it pleases. On this day it appeared that the big mountain would split the storm with the worst of the activity streaming towards the north over Woodland Park and on into Colorado Springs.

Pikes Peak Colorado Thunderstorm Clouds

There have been reports of bighorn sheep activity along highway 67 so what the heck, I might be able to get some wildlife pictures and storm pictures on one trip.. so I loaded up my gear and headed over the pass. Unfortunately there were no sheep but it wasn’t long before I was in a major downpour! Obviously being in the midst of the storm is not the optimal photographic scenario so I pressed on to Divide thinking that the park on top of the hill might be a great place to see the storm development in all directions. Well I could definitely see in all directions but the best part of the storm was still right over me with no good views of the thunderheads in any direction. Bummer… well I thought, maybe Pikes Peak will have some interesting activity to view from the mountainsides in Woodland Park. Needed to stop there for supplies anyway so off to Woodland Park we went.

The big peak was putting on a pretty good show so me and the big dog climbed the ridge on the north side of Ute Pass and we got a few nice shots from there. We also saw some deer but were not able to get into position for any decent pictures, the underbrush is just so thick and lush due to all the rain this year. It almost looks like a rain forest like Oregon or Washington! So a few shots of clouds streaming over the massive mountain were all that we were going to get on this day.

On the return trip I could see storm activity all around but no matter where I went… there were trees in the way, or a hill or a mountain or the edge of a cliff with no place to park.

Pikes Peak Colorado Thunderstorm Clouds Finally I thought I might be able to see from the top of the gold mine… but there was still the rest of the mountain to the north in the way of the best view. A quick trip down to Victor Pass from there provided a somewhat anticlimactic view of the remnants of the days storm on the south face of Pikes Peak, but overall the whole dayΒ  was a major disappointment.

I guess the lesson learned from this story is that storm chasing in the mountains might be a losing proposition… Colorado is not like Kansas where there is a uniform network of farm roads that allow you to get anywhere you want to go in a hurry. We have long winding roads with mountains in the way everywhere! I did get a tip though that might prove useful in the future. Apparently there was a good view from the one place I didn’t go, the high plateau traversed by Teller County Road 1. I’ll give that a shot next time.

As always these pictures and more are available for purchase as wall art on my website on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting. Tons of cool gift items, tech gadgets, apparel and household items are also available with a beautiful mountain scenery by S.W. Krull Imaging.

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Wilderness at First Light

Last night I knew that there was a very good chance today was going to be a great day! The snow had stopped last evening and the storm had moved out into Kansas and Oklahoma. The temperature wasn’t going to be in the below zero or single digit range, and the mountains are always awesome after a big snow. So, tired as I was I dragged my butt out of bed at 5:30 this morning to get in a cup of coffee before the short journey to the trailhead πŸ™‚

Frozen Gold Mine

Early fog and mist created this beautiful ghostly scene of one of the many abandoned mines in the Cripple Creek area and was well worth the stop for a capture. It turned out even better than I expected, which I’m pretty happy about. So many of these mine pictures just turn out to be so ordinary that I have almost given up shooting them! Glad to finally have one I am proud of πŸ™‚

A deer was at the trailhead to greet me, although the lighting wasn’t too spectacular with the sun yet to clear the ridge on the east side. She showed some slight interest and gazed at me for a few moments while chewing some mountain grass. Cute mule deer

I was hoping to see a big buck mule deer on top of the ridge, but was excited to see that the elk herd was right out in the morning sun, well on their way to their hiding place in the dense pine wilderness. I don’t think they ever really saw me as they didn’t break out into a gallop likeΒ  they so often do, but just continued a leisurely stroll along the edge of the forest. They did stop and look my way, which is always good for pictures but I really am surprised they didn’t run.

Winter Morning Elk Herd

With my 100-400mm glass I was able to isolate groups of them on their way as well as capture the overall scene with my favorite tree in the background. I also had time to snap a few to make sure I at least got something on my sensor before switching to aperture priority mode and f8 to make sure I got a sharp rendering of all the elk, not just the ones closest to me, which was where I chose to focus.

Eventually all the huge beasts disappeared into the woods and the moment was gone. I saw a couple of deer along the road on the way home but nothing spectacular enough to include in this blog post.

Winter Morning Elk Herd

As always these images and more are available on my website as wall art on glossy metal and acrylic, stretched canvas, traditional framing and matting and on many cool household, tech and gift items!

Winter Morning Elk Herd

 

 

Winter Morning Elk Herd

 

Beautiful Powder

Had to wear snowshoes today in order to make it to the summit, life at almost 10,000 feet has it’s benefits! Besides the beautiful scenery the snow up here is much better, not like that sticky mess found at lower elevations πŸ™‚ It was a tough climb though, I could hear my heart thumping in my ears… not too much though! Well anyway, when we crest the ridge and these mountains come into view all petty problems fade a bit for sure!

Sunrise and Storm Clouds on the Sangre

 

The Blizzard

The weather has been miserable for photography these days, haven’t had my camera out in over a week. Summer is pretty rough for taking pictures in the mountains. Between the intense sun, haze and later on smoke unless we are very fortunate the mountains are barely visible. The wildlife spends the warm lazy days lying in the shade in the highest elevations, coming out only in darkness to forage for food.

Three does in snow

Which got me to thinking about winter and my favorite activity, snow shoeing πŸ™‚ I was recalling this photo shoot… the snow was just coming down so hard for several days without a break, we were just buried under several feet of snow. So much snow in fact that the wildlife was having difficulty moving around to get food. That year there was a herd of deer trapped in the mountains that was surely going to starve to death without assistance. The Wildlife Service was going to abide by it’s strict no interference policy and just let the animals die until there was a massive outcry from the public and they were forced to relent. Bales of hay were finally airlifted by helicopter to rescue the stranded animals, but the public was strictly forbidden to take matters into their own hands in other affected areas. Fortunately Coloradans are generally rebels and no one listened to the authorities, saving many animals that would have perished.

I lived a short distance from a game reserve where someone had delivered a couple of bales of hay to our beloved herd of deer, but unfortunately the snow was so deep that they could not get to it. Since I walked that forest every morning looking for pictures for my stock photo business I knew the area like the back of my hand, including each and every game path throughout the entire area. So I got the idea to put on my snowshoes and pack down their paths so they could move around. The snowplows had been by once so the snow on the street was only about a foot deep and getting to the woods was pretty easy. However, once I hit the deep snow it was an entirely different story! But I persevered, diving into the waist deep snow with short steps so that there would be a good solid path for the animals. I remember the snow getting deeper and deeper until I was struggling through chest deep powder gasping for air and having to stop and rest after only a few steps. My snowshoes would plunge almost all the way to the ground and then become covered with all the snow on top of my feet. It was all I could do to lift each foot out of the deep trench for another step. For a while there I thought I was going to spit out my lungs!

Winter Deer.jpg

I could see the deer in the mist, looking on curiously. They were quite used to me walking through there with my camera so there was no alarm and they didn’t try to run. Mostly they were hanging out under the thickest trees to avoid getting buried while they slept. I of course had brought my camera, well protected by my Aquatech rain cover, in case I could get close enough to the deer to get some pictures. Multitasking I guess it was πŸ™‚

And indeed, I did get some of the greatest deer in snow pictures that I have ever managed to obtain! At one point I was struggling to get through some snow and brush when I burst into a clearing and found these three beautiful ladies staring at me like, “Hey, what’s going on?” I also found a few more cuties just hanging out, eating the bark and leftover leaves on the ubiquitous scrub oak trees prevalent in that area.

Doe-Pair

Most gratifying of all though was the sight of the deer beginning almost immediately to use the pathways that I had created for them πŸ™‚ They seemed very grateful for the assistance and I was grateful for the opportunity to have done my part in the great effort made by fellow Coloradans to spare the animals from great suffering. In fact it worked so well that I made it a habit from then on to don my snowshoes and keep their paths clear for the rest of my remaining time in the Parker area. It is now one of my fondest memories from my time life there πŸ™‚

Focus on Infinity

“Infinity: unlimited extent of time, space, or quantity : boundlessness”, according to Merriam Webster. A difficult concept under any circumstances, infinity in photography can be an even more elusive state. In photography, the definition of infinity includes “A distance between a subject and the camera so great that rays of light reflected from the subject may be regarded as parallel.”, and “A distance setting of the camera lens beyond which everything is in focus.”.

Fresh Snow on the Sangre de Cristo

Recent travails in shooting distant landscapes has me studying the issue in more depth, and today was the day for some cursory field testing. The plan was to conduct a scientific experiment to determine if the auto focus mechanism on my Canon 70D with my 70-200 lens was handling infinity properly. Today was supposed to start with a beautiful clear morning, following days of snow and fog and I was glad to finally be able to get out and do some shooting with Big Dog.

As usual though, my experiment didn’t turn out to be all that scientific or even informative, but I had fun and got some good usable shots πŸ™‚ What I did find out though was gratifying in that I believe that my lens is performing exactly as it should. My method was to take two shots of every scene, one with the auto focus and the second identical shot with the lens set to manual and the focus set to or near the “infinity” mark focused on the distant Sangre de Cristo mountain range as sharply as possible. Then, in front of Photoshop a 100% view of the two images side by side was going to tell me which method is better. I had recently watched another photographer on Youtube who claimed that manual mode focused on infinity was the way to go.

Now the really confusing part of the experiment is that many professional lenses have the capability to focus “beyond infinity”… where nothing is actually in focus. Apparently the equipment can compensate for micro expansion and contraction of the metal due to temperature changes and may require that space slightly beyond the infinity line for that purpose.

Fox with Prey

It was indeed a beautiful morning and we were awarded a couple of bonus shots for our effort πŸ™‚ Along the way I spotted both a fox hunting and then later a coyote hunting in the beautiful fresh snow. The fox was already heading for home with a tasty morsel in his mouth and the coyote was still hunting but paused to cast a wary glance in our direction.

Coyote in Fresh Snow

Coyote in Fresh Snow

The mountains were magnificent as usual and the clear day was perfect for my little test. My scene is perfect with some nearby pine forest covered foothills backed up by the distant peaks of the Sangre. As I conducted my tests I noticed some curious behavior exhibited by the equipment. When focusing on the nearby mountains the camera on auto focus chose to focus exactly on the infinity mark, while the distant mountains resulted in a focus slightly beyond the infinity mark. I thought I was onto something there, a possible malfunction in the auto focus mechanism perhaps. But the follow up shots using manual focus proved the auto focus to be exactly correct based on what I was focusing on.

These findings were very good news for confidence my equipment, but also raised a new question that I have no definitive answer for. Why are the close mountains which are at infinity focused differently than the distant mountains which are also beyond infinity. I guess the simple answer to that is that the close mountains are at a sufficiently varied distance and angle to result in a slightly different infinity value from the vastly distant Sangre de Cristo range more than 60 miles away. In any case, the idea of just setting the camera to the infinity mark is out of the question, at least for a 200mm lens. This practice would probably work fine for a wide angle lens where the infinity point is only a few feet from the camera. Each scene is going to require evaluation to determine what exactly is the most important feature to render the most sharp in the image. If the entire image needs to be sharp, focus stacking in Photoshop might be required.

All in all, the day was a success, important knowledge acquired, some nice images to work with collected, and now in the last couple of hours some more great shots of the little fox family that I found the other day πŸ™‚ Please be sure to visit my image website to see all the new pictures that have been made for sale as wall art, cool household items and royalty free stock!

The Storm Beckons

Much to my surprise fresh snow and black clouds greeted the sunrise this morning. And naturally I was unable to resist the call of stormy weather, never have been! It wasn’t a rush though, the storm clouds didn’t appear to be going anywhere very fast and I was glad to have a few minutes for some frozen waffles and coffee before heading out into the elements. However Big Dog quickly figured out that I wasn’t going to work and got excited, he could care less what the weather is doing… as far as he is concerned all days are good for hiking!

Fresh Snow in the Rockies

The mountains are always the same ones… my view of the Sangre to the southwest, but that’s the beauty of a Rocky Mountain storm. The clouds are like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two are the same. A good storm can transform the same old mountains into a scene that I have never witnessed before. The contrast of the morning sun on the fresh snow against the black clouds in the distance was amazing and well worth a couple of minutes to stop and take in a few shots on my way to the mountains.

Storm clouds on the Sangre

As we strode down the trail to my mountain overlook I was contemplating my life in the weather. I have always been interested in the weather, enough so that I signed up for weather school in the Air Force in hopes of a career doing something I loved. The twists and turns of life took me in another direction from there but my love for weather has never subsided. Always thought I should have become a storm chaser instead of a computer programmer after I got out of the Air Force… I wonder why I have never created a special gallery on my website devoted to weather? Hmmm… I have plenty of inclement weather images with which to fill it, what a great idea πŸ™‚ There, it’s done… for now. All I need is a truck that runs and I can start chasing storms, never too late to start something new πŸ™‚

Stormy Sangre de Cristo Sunrise

I was going to just sleep in this morning but as fate would have it, I was awake at 5:00 a.m. thinking about the mountains. So a quick cup of coffee and I was off into the pre-dawn darkness with the Big Dog in tow. Actually I should say Son Boy was off with me in tow 😦 Fortunately today I remembered to put him on two leashes, one to stand on while I steady my shot and the other to keep him from going on a half day romp in the wilderness!

Sangre de Cristo Storm Clouds

Sangre de Cristo Storm Clouds

Well anyway it was a chilly morning so I remembered the hoodie under my jacket, which turned out to be a life saver because the wind was blowing about a hundred miles per hour on top of the mountain and it was COLD! We arrived just at sunrise and the majesty of the scene was jaw dropping. Storm clouds had begun to fill the Arkansas River Valley, blowing through and billowing at a pretty good rate of speed! I was hoping that I would capture the motion of the clouds without them just looking blurry. As the scene unfolded I noticed that I might be able to see through the valley a bit better if I moved a few yards to the north. Easier said than done though, after sittingΒ  on one knee for 15 minutes in the bone chilling cold I wasn’t sure I was even going to be able to get up! Fortunately for me Big Dog is always ready and good for a boost up. A simple “lets go” and Son Boy has the heavy duty 4wd engaged and moving πŸ™‚

The new location was good so we shot from that position for a while until I noticed that there were a couple of utility poles interfering with the view towards the right. So off we went to a third position for another fifteen minutes or so as the clouds began to build and swirl around even more. Finally I was an absolute ice cube with frozen hands that were getting too stiff and numb to even feel the camera controls. On my way out I noticed a couple more good views, so I had to gut out a few more shots in the cold and wind. Finally I was just too cold to continue and we began the long trek home. I have to say, it has been a while since I have been that chilled to the bone! Took me a couple of hours and a pot of coffee before the shivering stopped!

Anyway, I hope you find the pictures interesting and worth a peek on my website. Just click the pictures and a large preview will appear along with the many different wall art designs and cool household and gift items!